The best new free music-making software: unmissable freeware synths, drum machines and effects for March 2023

Aphex Twin SampleBrain

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: Standalone | Download

Having previously worked on a synth with Novation and a microtuning plugin with Oddsound, Aphex Twin (AKA Richard D. James) has now released a free “custom sample mashing app” known as Samplebrain.

This open-source software works by chopping samples up into a ‘brain’ of small, interconnected sections called blocks, which are grouped into a network based on their similarity. This then processes a target sample, chopping it up into blocks in the same way, and attempts to match each block with one in its brain for realtime playing. The idea is that you’re interpreting one sound with another.

Discussing the origins of the software (it’s actually been in development since 2015) and what it’s capable of, Aphex Twin said: “What if you could reconstruct source audio from a selection of other MP3s/audio on your computer? What if you could build a 303 riff from only a cappellas or bubbling mud sounds? What if you could sing a silly tune and rebuild it from classical music files? You can do this with Samplebrain.”

Ricardo Plugins Off-Grid

Platforms: PC | Formats: VST2/VST3 | Download

It's a shame this one's PC-only, because everybody should be able to take advantage of this powerful, experimental free drum machine plugin. Here's the lowdown: Off-Grid is based around seven channels, each of which is equipped with four cells, or voices. 

Each cell can be independently controlled and holds one of the plugin's 448 built-in sounds, which can be reversed, looped and pitch-shifted as you please. That's not all - there's a ton of potential for randomization, meaning glitchy, unpredictable drum grooves are just a click away.

Sixth Sample Cramit

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/AU | Download

You may already be familiar with the sound of OTT (over-the-top) compression, but now Sixth Sample and Integraudio are giving you the effect for free with their new Cramit plugin. Many will know the term OTT from the name of a preset in Ableton Live’s multiband compressor, and it’s also been adopted by third-party plugin manufacturers such as Slate Digital and Xfer Records. 

Sixth Sample’s take on the concept gives you three bands of upwards/downwards compression and expansion, and also enables you to apply seven types of distortion (pre or post) that are integrated into a single control. You also get 10 factory presets and a resizable interface.

Variety of Sound TesslaPRO mkIII

tessla pro

(Image credit: Variety of Sound)

Platforms: PC | Formats: VST | Download

Nothing beefs up a mix like a tasty bit of analogue saturation, but not all of us can afford a smorgasbord of outboard. Enter TesslaPRO. This Windows-only saturator updates Variety of Sound's TesslaPRO plugin for a third iteration, bringing the rich tones of classic transformer-based circuit designs of yore straight into the modern era. 

Aimed at mixing and mastering engineers nostalgic for the "extra vibes" delivered by highend analogue equipment, TesslaPRO blesses your audio with those all-important artifacts, bringing depth, dimension and warmth where it's needed.

Flandersh Tech Movementron


(Image credit: Flandersh Tech)

Platforms: PC | Formats: VST3 | Download

Have you ever found yourself at a creative standstill? Stuck in a production rut? Fear not, because Movementron, a free synth from Flandersh Tech, is all about movement. 

This dual-oscillator gem enables you to sequence your choice of waveforms over 8 steps, creating complex, evolving patterns with the first oscillator, while the second allows you to draw your own waves into the plugin. Flandersh Tech have even thrown in a sequence-able filter, LFO, compressor, delay and reverb too. Neato. 

TheWaveWarden Filter Force Free

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: VST3/AU | Download

Most DAWs come bundled with a free filter plugin, but these are often pretty basic and uninspiring. When you've maxed out your stock filter's capabilities, it's a good idea to test the waters with something new. A great place to start would be TheWaveWarden's Filter Force Free, a free version of their (still fairly cheap, at €29) Filter Force Pro plugin. 

This dual filter shines in its modulation capabilities, offering producers two sequencer lanes for rhythmic filter manipulation that'll generate life and movement in your source audio. The free version's restricted to two filter types, but it's a decent plugin nonetheless.

Sonora Cinematic Aria Libera

Platforms: Mac/PC | Formats: Kontakt | Download

Every so often a free plugin comes along that stops us in our tracks. Aria Libera is one of those plugins. A Kontakt instrument from Sonora Cinematic, it's based around  a collection of recordings of vocalist Emma May Price, that have been processed through a granular modular synthesizer. Haunting and ethereal, this one will add a touch of mood and colour to any track. 

Matt Mullen
Tech Editor

I'm the Tech Editor for MusicRadar, working across everything from artist interviews to product news to tech tutorials. I love electronic music and I'm endlessly fascinated by the tools we use to make it. When I'm not behind my laptop keyboard, you'll find me behind a MIDI keyboard, carefully crafting the beginnings of another project that I'll ultimately abandon to the creative graveyard that is my overstuffed hard drive.

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